Mardi Gras starts with Epiphany and lasts through Fat Tuesday, the final day of revelry before Ash Wednesday, when people traditionally buckle down for Lent. A few other facts about the celebration:
Its origins are traced to medieval Europe.
It was celebrated in New Orleans with elegant society balls as early as the 1740s.
The first carnival planning groups, known as krewes, organized in the 1830s, and the first parade was in 1856. The first recorded instance of throwing items off floats was in 1870.
The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple (standing for justice), green (faith) and gold (power). When it came time for Louisiana State University to adopt colors, it turned to purple and gold.
Now, the traditional parade cry: "Throw me somethin', mister," earns you shiny beads and other trinkets in those hues.
There is no main group in charge of Mardi Gras and no overall theme each year. Individual krewes choose themes for their parades.
Three of the largest krewes — Orpheus, Bacchus and Endymion — have the biggest and most intricate and extravagant floats.
Some krewes are known for their schticks, such as the Krewe of Barkus, which stages a dog parade, and the Krewe of Bosom Buddies, who dress in tutus and bras.
One lucky person at the BB parade catches the prize float throw, a hand-decorated bra.
Others have celebrity honorees: Bob Hope, Charlton Heston and William Shatner are among the many selected as King of Bacchus, and the Krewe of Endymion counts Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison and Dan Aykroyd among its many guests.
The Krewe of Rex, founded in 1872, has had more parades than any other organization.